First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - After several years of coming close, including losing out in coin tosses, the Lumberton High soccer team went out and made sure this year's Two Rivers Conference title and tournament hosting rights weren't left up to chance.
The Pirates, 15-2-3 and 11-0-1, ran through their conference schedule undefeated, earning the school's first regular-season conference championship in the process, and will host their first conference tournament game tonight (Tuesday) at 7 against Pine Forest.
“Lady Luck's never been on our side,” said Pirates coach Kenny Simmons, referring to the co-championship seasons that came down to a coin flip. “We've always had to travel to Fayetteville to one of their schools to play, so it's nice to finally host it. Every team plays better at home than they do on the road.”
Junior striker Kyle Dickerson, who is the Pirates' leading goal-scorer this season, said the home field advantage will definitely play to Lumberton's strengths.
“We get the crowd that we like and we get to play on our field, which plays to our advantage,” Dickerson said, noting that the Pirates prefer the quicker speed of play allowed on their home turf. “When we go to other places, we kind of struggle to adapt to another field, so it'll be a challenge for the other teams to come to us.”
In addition to their up-tempo attacking offense, the Pirates have also prided themselves on a stout defense this season. In 20 games, they have given up just 17 goals.
“We look to (goalkeeper) Jake (Moore) and the other senior leaders on defense to keep that going,” Dickerson said. “Hopefully we can get shutouts throughout the tournament.”
Though Lumberton has gone into each of the last two tournaments as one of the top teams in the conference, the Pirates failed to reach the title game both times, getting knocked out by South View in the semifinals each year.
“We're definitely not going to look past anyone,” Simmons said. “The last two years everybody's been anticipating the third Lumberton vs. Terry Sanford matchup and it never happened because we couldn't hold up our end of the bargain.
“A lot of people would like to see a third matchup with (No. 2 seed) Terry Sanford and Lumberton again on Thursday night (in the championship game), but we've just got to take it one game at a time.”
Simmons admits, though, that he is looking a little bit ahead to the state playoffs. He and a group of players went to Raleigh on Monday to watch a game between Athens Drive High and Middle Creek High, one of which will likely be Lumberton's first-round opponent in the state playoffs next week.
Because the Pirates have already secured the No. 1 seed from the conference in the state playoffs by winning the regular season, they won't necessarily have anything to lose or gain from the conference tournament. That scenario is something that Simmons said has the conference coaches questioning the necessity of a tournament.
“The discussion among the conference coaches is how important really is the conference tournament,” Simmons said. “You're getting ready for the state playoffs and you're out here beating each other up and risking injury. So it's meaningless in a sense, but I guess there's a lot of pride at stake.”
For the players, according to Dickerson, the tournament will provide them the opportunity to break new ground in the history of the school's soccer program.
“We look at it as a lot of pride, because this is the first time our school has ever been able to do this,” Dickerson said. “To come in as the highest ranked team and one of the best teams that Lumberton has ever had, we can be the first team to host and the first team to win it, so that'll be a great thing.”
Cape Fear and Terry Sanford will face off in today's first semifinal game at 5 p.m. at Lumberton's Alton Brooks Stadium. The winner of that game will play in the championship against the winner of the Lumberton-Pine Forest game on Thursday, also at Lumberton.
“It'd be pretty embarrassing to not make it to the finals and have it happen at your place,” Dickerson said. “So we just want to come in and keep doing what we've been doing all season and win it.”